SINGAPORE - History was made on Monday (May 4), as Members of Parliament (MPs) masked up for the first Parliament sitting since the wearing of a face mask in public was made mandatory.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin announced at the start of the sitting that all MPs will wear masks in Parliament House and remove them only while speaking so they could be heard clearly.
The significance of the move taking place on May 4th - Star Wars Day - was not lost on Mr Tan, who said on Facebook that he was masking up in Parliament though it was "not quite Darth Vader's mask".
An accompanying photo in his Facebook post shows, from front, the Serjeant-at-Arms shouldering the mace (a symbol of the Speaker's authority), Mr Tan and the Clerk of Parliament in a single file, right before they entered the Chamber. The trio wore face masks.
"Cue the 'Imperial March' and watch my #MotherOfAllLightSabre in front... keep safe distance!!" wrote Mr Tan, referencing Darth Vader's famous theme song in the Star Wars franchise.
May 4 is celebrated by fans of the film franchise across the world because "May the Fourth be with you" is a pun on the famous Star Wars line, "May the Force be with you".
The new rule enhances safe distancing measures introduced in Parliament since March for MPs to be seated farther apart and in galleries on other levels. Members of the public and the media are now directed to the auditorium and press room respectively if they wish to observe Parliament proceedings in-person.
"We stand in solidarity with all Singaporeans in supporting and adhering to the Government's circuit breaker measures as these are adjusted with time, and depending on the prevailing situation," Mr Tan said.
The uncertainty brought by Covid-19 has shown why it is imperative that the Government prepares for scenarios in which it is impossible or unsafe for MPs to meet at one place to carry out parliamentary businesses, the Speaker added.
The pressing need for this was evident, as Leader of the House Grace Fu on Monday introduced the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill under a Certificate of Urgency, which allows for it to be debated and passed in a single sitting.
Parliament will debate the amendments on Tuesday to allow MPs to spread out at different locations while it is in session, and for the House to convene through virtual means if necessary.
Mr Tan said that as Speaker he has provided his views and advice on the parliamentary law and procedures to be considered in the drafting of the Bill, and that "the ultimate form and modalities of such continuity arrangements would be looked into once the Bill is passed".
"In tackling the Covid-19 situation, what must remain constant is that we must always be planning and preparing in advance as best as we can," said Mr Tan.
In this, Singapore will learn from other countries and parliaments, and implement what works best in the Republic's context, he added.
"We must be primed and ready to swiftly respond should such exigencies happen."